ApocEclipse Bend

When the moon passes in front of the sun on Mon., Aug. 21, Bend will be just outside the shadow. The city will have all of the eclipse woes—without actually seeing a full eclipse.

Central Oregon has been dubbed one of the best places to view the Great American Eclipse of 2017, according to the Great American Eclipse website. The Detroit Free Press declared Madras to be the very best. The skies are likely to be clear. Portland and its international airport aren't far. The region offers highway access, hotels, campsites and abundant activities to enjoy during the days leading up to the eclipse.

Officials predict that 1 million people will come to Oregon—or move about the state to be in the 70-mile-wide path—where one can experience the full eclipse for a minute or two called the "path of totality."

Big Numbers or Not? It's All About the Weather, Here and Elsewhere

Local officials estimate that the population of Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties will double, meaning 200,000 to 250,000 people visiting in the days leading up to the eclipse. That's not even counting the tens of thousands of people who will pass through the region on their way to the Painted Hills, Mitchell and other points east.

But those are all estimates based on the number of hotel rooms, campsites and how many guests people might be able to put up in their homes. "Nobody really has a good number of how many visitors will be here. It's a lot of crystal balling," said Peter Murphy, an Oregon Department of Transportation spokesperson.

If there is a rare summer cloudy day in the forecast, some people might not come, but many still would with hopes that the weather people are wrong.

More likely, the best-case scenario is clear skies across the state so people can see the eclipse at the coast and in the Willamette Valley. Under those conditions, Central Oregon will be busy—but manageably so.

"We're used to having a lot of extra people in Bend. It could be as easy as a usual summer busy day," said Anne Aurand, communications director for the City of Bend.

If it's cloudy west of the Cascades and clear in the high desert, all bets are off. Hundreds of thousands of people who had planned to watch the eclipse on the coast or along Interstate 5 could very well try to trek across the mountains for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

That's the scenario that worries Dave Howe, Bend Fire & EMS Department's battalion chief of administration. "It could easily be a situation that we can't get to where we need to get because there will be so many cars," he said. "It could take two hours to drive to Redmond."

It could be an ApocEclipse, indeed.

In fact, Mark Schafer, a Bend physical therapist, recently registered the Internet domain name ApocEclipse.com. "There's been all of this speculation about how crazy it's going to be," he said. "I saw it was available and thought I'd buy it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it."

Schafer said he'll probably be content with seeing near-totality from Bend rather than face the madness. "I don't think I'm going anywhere. Maybe if the roads don't seem too terrible, I'll get on my road bike and pedal north 20 or 30 miles. But if there really is the kind of gridlock they're talking about, I'll just stay at my house."

Preparing Bend for an ApocEclipse: Fire, Police and Hospitals

"The challenge of this event is it's singular. We don't have any comparisons," said Kristine McConnell, industry relations manager with the Central Oregon Visitors Association.

The last time a total solar eclipse crossed the continental United States was 1979. That year, it stayed north of Madras. Central Oregon then was still a timber region, not a tourist destination.

The edge of the path of totality this time will pass over the runway at Roberts Field in Redmond, 15 miles north of downtown Bend. In Drake Park, the sun will be 99.6 percent obscured, but eclipse experts and veterans say that fraction of a percent makes all the difference.

The lack of totality will not mean a lack of visitors to Bend, though. The city is the urban hub of the east side of the Cascades. Visitors who did not secure a spot in the path will stay and try to drive north. Local officials, therefore, have been planning for months how to handle the influx.

Government agencies, shops and service providers have curtailed time off for employees. It's going to be all hands on deck.

If anyone can be said to be heading up the effort, it's Nathan Garibay, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office's emergency manager and his counterparts from Crook and Jefferson counties. They're working with 28 partner agencies and organizations as part of the Central Oregon Emergency Information Network. Dozens more local, state and federal agencies are also coordinating with them.

Garibay expects that the biggest challenges will be transportation and general community systems. When it comes to the roads, they simply are not designed to handle twice the usual traffic or more, he said. Community systems are designed to handle residents plus usual visitors, he added. Sewer, water, emergency systems and so on all will be stressed.

"The worst case would be if we have a significantly higher influx than the 200,000 forecast and it stretches our resources beyond what our capacity is," Garibay said.

Local law enforcement will work to keep order no matter how many people come. "We're going to handle situations the same as we do any day. If we're busy and have to prioritize calls, we'll prioritize calls," said Bend Police Lt. Clint Burleigh. "It's not like the rules change for a day or for a weekend."

ODOT's Murphy said that the department will stage crews at strategic locations along Highway 97 from La Pine to north of Madras so that they can respond quickly to incidents. "Our job is to keep the highway open. That's what we'll do," he said.

Ensuring that the public remains informed about everything falls to the regional Joint Information System, a partnership of local, state and federal governments and agencies.

"Usually a Joint Information System is something you activate in an emergency—a big fire, a terrorist action, a chemical spill," Aurand, the City of Bend's communications director, said. "This time we're using it proactively." She added that a lot of the focus for Bend is how to best support the communities in the path of totality. For example, Mitchell and the rest of Wheeler County do not have a large hospital. When people get hurt, they will wind up at St. Charles Medical Center.

Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles' chief physician executive, said the hospital plans for the usual demand to at least double, especially when it comes to emergency room visits. "We're planning pretty aggressively to ensure we can care for their needs, not knowing precisely what the numbers will be," he said.

Both AirLink and Life Flight, which provide emergency air transportation, will have extra capacity available in the region to deliver injured people to Bend or Portland if necessary.

Lisa Goodman, St. Charles' spokesperson, added, "We're encouraging people to take good care of themselves to reduce demand for health services." She urged residents to stay hydrated and to fill prescriptions early. If insurance balks at early refills, contact your pharmacist who might be able to help you get permission.

Local Essentials: Gas and Food

Officials also are working with local businesses to prepare for the needs of residents and visitors.

Gas will be in high demand, especially as everyone tries to leave on the same day. Managers of some gas stations are meeting this week to develop a strategy for the eclipse, but there might not be much they can do. "There's no extra tank to put fuel in," said Jason Rust, manager of the Chevron station at Third Street and Revere Avenue, said. "All of our tanks are in the ground. We can fill those and that's it."

Hungry eclipse viewers might clear grocery store shelves, too. "This is a flying blind thing," said Joe Anzaldo, manager of Newport Market. "We really don't have any history, so that sort of makes you nervous."

Anzaldo said the store would stock up items it expects to be in high demand, such as ice and beverages. They've been tracking which beers are best sellers and planning to stock plenty. Even if the whole thing winds up being a bust, they have shelf-life and will sell eventually. "It's not like having extra turkeys after Thanksgiving," he said.

Public officials are urging people to stock up early. If locals fill their gas tanks and buy their groceries a couple of weeks in advance, it leaves time for gas stations and grocery stores to restock their shelves before the crowds arrive. Once the ApocEclipse starts, vendors will likely be more focused on the communities in the path of totality, if they can get their trucks here at all.

"We're counting on not having a lot of support from vendors those days because they will be so busy in Redmond and beyond," Anzaldo said.

Meanwhile, Newport Market has been doing brisk sales of eclipse-related paraphernalia. They've sold 1,000 pairs of eclipse glasses and ordered more. Other eclipse gear includes better glasses, posters and themed jewelry by a local designer.

Almost everyone planning for Bend's and the region's response to the eclipse will miss totality because they'll be working. Many of them will be at the Joint Information Services operations hub at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center during the days leading up the eclipse and on Aug. 21 itself. They will be tantalizingly close to totality, but not quite under it. Yet none of them interviewed for this story admitted to being terribly disappointed.

"My career has forced me to miss a lot of important things with my kids and family. It's just part of the job. The community pays me to take care of these issues," said Garibay, the county emergency manager. "It would be cool to be in a better location to see it, but at the end of the day it will get dark at about 8:30 that night."

And when Aug. 22 dawns, it's going to be just another day in Central Oregon, except for the straggler eclipse enthusiasts still trying to get home.